Ferrari: The man, the company & the legend

PETER ROBINSON’S EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES Classic

FIRST PUBLISHED JUNE 1974

AN AUDIENCE WITH ENZO FERRARI WAS A JOURNALISTIC RARITY, AN EVENT TO REQUEST, YET WITH NO EXPECTATION OF IT COMING TO PASS

If you were lucky and invited you’d get a few words with the man at the launch of Ferrari’s new season F1 and sports cars, but a one-on-one interview was special. Griff Borgeson, the great American historian, managed it for Automobile Quarterly, while a couple of favoured Italian journalists scored an annual interview. And then there was ex-Wheels staffer Mel Nichols.

Mel left Australia and the editorship of Sports Car World, Wheels’ sister title, in early 1973. His first stop was Sicily for the last world sportscar championship Targa Florio. What followed was six weeks in Modena, based at the old Palace Hotel where the Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini test drivers, and other company people, often stayed and drank.

Nichols, always playing the long game, made sure Enzo saw copies of any Ferrari stories he ran in SCW and always received a short thank-you note signed in Ferrari’s hallowed purple ink. He’d also written to Ferrari and made contact with Franco Gozzi, Ferrari’s assistant and the company’s public relations man.

The call to be at Maranello came one Tuesday from Gozzi.

First up was a ride in a right-hand-drive 365 GT/4 destined for England, with Ferrari test driver Paolo (Mel never did discover his family name) at the wheel as they headed into the famous hills to the south of the factory. Test drives, many test drives, would only come later on other visits to Maranello. Then came the mandatory factory tour, followed by a few laps of Fiorano in Nichols’ road-test Fiat 124 Coupe, and an inspection of a flat-12 F1 engine on a test cell deep inside the racing department.

Finally, an anxious Gozzi said, “We must hurry now; Mr Ferrari is waiting to see you. He can spare you a few minutes.”

In disbelief, Mel followed Gozzi, thankful that when he arrived in Modena he’d asked Ralph Lowe, the Australian Ferrari distributor, to intercede with Maranello on his behalf.

By then Lowe’s company was the longest serving Ferrari agent in the world and Ralph one of only nine men to wear the legendary Ferrari watch, with its black horse on its yellow face, and given by Enzo Ferrari only to those people he holds most dear.

Nichols’ long account of that day in Maranello remains a wonderfully evocative insight into the workings of the world’s most famous car factory and the character of its founder.

Read it to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Ferrari.

“NICHOLS MADE SURE ENZO SAW COPIES OF ANY FERRARI STORIES HE RAN IN SCW AND ALWAYS RECEIVED A SHORT THANK-YOU NOTE SIGNED IN FERRARI’S HALLOWED PURPLE INK”

A special pen from a pal

I never met Enzo Ferrari: the man died aged 90 in August 1988, just three months before I moved to Italy to work for Wheels and Autocar magazines. I do, however, have a tiny, treasured token of the man: Five years after writing this story, Mel gave me a cheap biro with a note attached: “Enzo Ferrari used this pen to sign his name in Maranello on Monday 15/1/1979.”

It was the pen Ferrari used in autographing Nichols’ book Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer.

ALSO IN WHEELS, June 1974

Two Toranas: Driving the base 173 and 4.2 V8 versions of the LH; Chrysler’s new small cars, the Galant and the Lancer; Australian Design Rules and the affect they will have on car modifications; Datsun’s $100,000 safety car; Steve Cropley grinds gears in a Merc-badged 16-litre V10; Rudolf Leiding, VW’s man of change.

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